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Radiation and your heart

Dear Reader

Well a lot has been written about cardiac damage and radiation, I keep seeing the claim that the Fukushima / chernobyl fallout is giving people heart attacks. I would like to point out that the best evidence I have seen for cardiac damage was in a very special group.

It was women who have been treated with radiation for breast cancer (See Paul McGale et. al. in Radiotherapy and Oncology, 2011, 100(2), 167-175). While Women treated in the left breast have in the past sometimes suffered some cardiac damage while those treated for cancer in the right breast do not get damaged hearts. In the paper I cited the women with left hand breast cancer were getting doses of about 6 Gy while the women with cancer in the right hand breast were getting cardiac doses of about 3 Gy.

This paper suggests to me that the heart can tolerate doses in the 1 Gy range, I think it is impossible for a member of the public in Japan to either get a 1 Gy dose in a year from external gamma rays from the Fukushima event or from internal exposure to cesium.

As a result I think that the cesium radioactivity from the Fukushima event does not pose a threat to the cardiac health of the Japanese population. I think that many of the claims which are made in Japan and the former Soviet union that radioactive cesium is killing people’s hearts are deeply wrong.

While the stress of a nuclear accident might increase the rate of heart attacks and the dire social conditions / diet in some parts of the Ukraine might lead to heart disease I think that rushing to blame every ill on Chernobyl or Fukushima is deeply wrong. It is a childish and stupid response to what is a very real problem which will either do no good or it will do a lot of harm.

One worry is the “worried well” who will divert scant resources away from where they are needed.

Another worry I have is that people will take a view that they are already doomed so then they no longer care about their wellbeing. The UN have made a statement which included some answers to long running and important questions. Which included.

Q: Did the trauma of rapid relocation cause persistent psychological or mental health problems?

A: Stress symptoms, depression, anxiety and medically unexplained physical symptoms have been reported, including self-perceived poor health. The designation of the affected population as “victims” rather than “survivors” has led them to perceive themselves as helpless, weak and lacking control over their future. This, in turn, has led either to over cautious behavior and exaggerated health concerns, or to reckless conduct, such as consumption of mushrooms, berries and game from areas still designated as highly contaminated, overuse of alcohol and tobacco, and unprotected promiscuous sexual activity.”

My understanding is that if you put a population under dire stress, imagine that me and my friends had been shipped off to deal with the Fukushima then if the stress was not managed then a series of mental health effects might occur as a result of the intense stress.

Person A might turn to drink, by picking up the bottle. He might use the booze to blot out what he perceives as the horrible reality. Ten years later he becomes a drink driver and then he runs down a little old lady / young mum plus pram / a whole line of nuns / (insert some other shock horror outcome for a drunk driver).

Person B might start to smoke again after having abstained from smoking for decades. Now if he assumes he will get lung cancer from radioactive dust he might think what is the harm in having a smoke.

Person C might find solace during the event by having sex with person D. I expect that when C’s wife and D’s husband discover this then C will end up being thrown out of the house by his wife. This wild filng of C and D will be likely to lead to a series of divorces which is a form of social harm.

Person E might start to over eat as a result of the stress of the event, he might even get a taste for puffer fish and then falls down dead when one day in his stressed out state he prepares the fish in the wrong way.

I would like to point out that sometimes a moment of intense stress does have a good effect in a person, for example one lady I know did “see the light”, find religion and she then put her life in order. She has told me that as a result of seeing the light she is a happier person who has a better quality of life. So perhaps person F who had been a heavy drinking nihilistic womanizer might after a week in the highly radioactive environment reexamines his life and then become a good man and a piller of his society. He might then become a priest / monk / good husband / (insert some other good type of man) and then make a positive contribution to society.

This is a good blog entry on risk which you might want to read.

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